Death toll from train fire in southern India climbs to 47 as rescue effort continues
AFP: CLAIMS of sabotage have been rejected by police as the death toll from an Indian train fire climbed to 47.The fire is belived to have started near a battery compartment situated underneath one of the rail cars, spreading into a ceiling-fan vent in the toilets.
The Times of India reports railway authorities have pointedly “not ruled out” sabotage, stating the sound of “firecrackers” had been heard before the fire spread. But police have rubbished their claims, stating the fire was caused by a short circuit.
The fire swept through a train car packed with sleeping passengers, sending panicked survivors rushing for the only clear exit once the train stopped.
Investigators found charred remains of victims still in their sleeping berths and were struggling to identify them.
A railway station worker noticed the burning coach as the overnight train from New Delhi to the southeastern city of Chennai passed through the town of Nellore at about 4am, local official B Sridhar said. Nellore is about 500km south of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state.
Once the alarm was raised, the train was stopped and the coach was detached from the rest of the train to prevent the blaze from spreading.
Passengers were evacuated once the train was halted.
“Since the fire had engulfed one door of the coach, people had to rush to the other end of the coach to exit,” Mr Sridhar said by telephone from the accident site.
Passengers said the fire spread swiftly through the coach.
“We woke up suddenly when the train came to a halt. That’s when we noticed the fire at one end of the coach and shouted out. People were still sleeping, but once they realised the danger they scrambled to the door,” Shantanu, a passenger in the coach, told New Delhi Television.
He said it took passengers a few minutes to react and push their way through the narrow space between the berths.
“By the time we got out of the door, the coach was completely on fire,” said Mr Shantanu, who like many Indians uses only one name. He said firefighters sprayed water over the burning coach, but it was gutted.
Mr Sridhar said the fire may have been caused by an electrical short circuit in the coach.
The blaze killed 47 people, said Anil Kumar, a regional railway manager. At least 28 others were hospitalised with burns, including at least two in critical condition, he said.
Railway and medical workers were trying to identify the dead, he said.
“This is a very difficult task, since some of the bodies are charred beyond recognition,” Mr Sridhar said, adding that officials were making preliminary identifications based on the reservations chart from the train’s records.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed his condolences to the families of the victims.
India has one of the world’s largest train networks, with more than 10,000 trains and 64,000km of track. Around 20 million people travel by train each day.
Meanwhile, a massive power cut struck northern India early today, affecting supplies in at least half a dozen states that are home to hundreds of millions of people, officials said.
Officials were assessing the cause of the problem on the Northern Power Grid and the number of people hit, but reports pointed to a fault in one state that led to an auto-shutdown in surrounding areas.
The Press Trust of India said the area around the capital New Delhi, as well as the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan had all been affected when supplies dropped out in the early hours of the morning.
Trains and metro services as well as hospitals had been hit, officials said.